New York As baseball was getting undressed in front of Congress, the NFL sat back and came off as the gold-medal winner for its steroids program. It has a strict zero-tolerance testing policy that seemingly cleaned up the game, evidenced by only 44 suspensions in 15 years.
But no system is perfect. No test in this advanced scientific age is unbeatable.
The NFL no longer is flying under the steroids radar or in position to brag about its program. The gold medal, for now, has dropped down to bronze while the NFL and the DEA figure out what's going on down in Carolina.
The revelation Wednesday night on "60 Minutes Wednesday" that three members of the Carolina Panthers had prescriptions filled by Dr. James Shortt in South Carolina for banned steroids less than two weeks before they played in Super Bowl XXXVIII last year should make the NFL nervous about where else in the league this could be happening.
None of the three players named -- center Jeff Mitchell, offensive tackle Todd Steussie, let go by Carolina after its Super Bowl and now with Tampa, and punter Todd Sauerbrun -- has been suspended by the NFL for steroid use. That means they have not tested positive. The "60 Minutes" report said Steussie filled his testosterone cream prescription 11 times and Mitchell filled a testosterone prescription seven times. The report says Sauerbrun, in addition to testosterone, obtained syringes and Stanozolol, an injectable steroid also banned by the NFL.
The 44 suspensions, an average of only three per year, makes you wonder how many players were finding a way to beat the system. But it is risky. Players must be willing to forfeit 25 percent of their salary and deal with the humiliation of their name being revealed if caught. In some corners of the locker room, they will be ostracized. But some players will always look for an edge.
"If you can't compete naturally, then don't compete," Giants defensive end Michael Strahan said in an interview during the 2003 season.
Players who are not cheating don't want to face players who are cheating. It is a competitive disadvantage.
"The NFL has been very clear about steroids and that feeling permeates every locker room. So it is considered bad to do anything like that, not only from an organizational standpoint, but a player-to-player standpoint," Steelers running back Jerome Bettis said the other day. "You will be frowned upon if another player found out you were taking steroids. I think there is a very small percentage of guys in the NFL doing it. Very small."
The NFL conducts 10,000 steroid tests per year. Each week during the season, seven players per team are randomly tested. Players are randomly tested during the offseason. It doesn't matter if a player is somewhere in Montana, the NFL will send, on a day's notice, one of its testers with urine cup in hand.
This Panthers situation could be an isolated case like two years ago when four Raiders tested positive for the new designer steroid THG.